I posted briefly and breathlessly about Fidelio the day after it opened. Usually by now I would have written something longer about it but, quite apart from the lack of time, I wasn't sure there was really anything much to add. It's very rare that I manage to say everything I want to in a single paragraph, but this one came pretty close. That said, I'm still me, so there is more to say.
I liked Elizabeth Stannard's last minute Leonore enough that, having decided I needed to see the show again, I booked for the very next performance on the off chance she'd still be singing. She was, and I continued to like her very much. Her voice does occasionally get swamped (more in Act I than Act II) and her acting is a little bit Dickensian urchin meets Cherubino, but she's still mightily impressive, and would be even without the special circumstances.
However, the soprano I'm saving my best adjectives for is our Marzelline. Lorina Gore is completely fabulous. Marzelline has the distinct advantage of singing one my favourite arias in the whole repertoire, but Lorina won me over well before we got to that. Just her opening tiff with Jaquino was enough. She's girlish and spirited, but never silly, and she slices beautifully through all that orchestration without sounding effortful or harsh: she's always audible and always adorable. And she handles that aria (which always has me in tears) beautifuly, then promptly outdoes herself in the quartet, where her radiant singing and the dreamy look in her eyes are just heartbreaking.
It's just rave after rave with this show. Who next? Julian Gavin is extraordinary as Florestan. As good as he was in Butterfly, I still was not expecting that clear, strong, beautiful sound which emerged from the dark depths at the beginning of Act Two. Nor was I expecting him to tackle that unsingable first aria so magnificently. He's dignified and sensitive and when the going gets tough, his singing gets sensational. He's a genuinely heroic Florestan. Colour me stunned. I can't wait to hear whatever he sings for us next: I suspect it might be Massenet's Des Grieux, which is role I would love to see him in.
Stephen Smith is an utter delight as Jaquino. He's a natural actor, always engaged with the action even when he's not singing, or singing only in ensemble (case in point: the end of Act I of Manon Lescaut, where his Edmondo actually manages to draw one's attention away from Teddy) and his light, bright tenor seem to get more interesting with every role. Stephen was sick for the second performance, however, so instead we heard Andrew Brunsdon. And I have to say, while he might not be as immediately adorable as Stephen, he may actually be a better vocal fit for the role: the sound is stronger and more Germanic. He also looks very German. Actually, almost disconcertingly so. Meanwhile, Conal Coad is his usual amiable self, a warm and paternal Rocco with a voice to match. He's lovely in the fun of the opening scenes and just as engaging when events take a more dramatic turn.
Even the smallest roles in this Fidelio have been impressively cast. Martin Buckingham and Andrew Jones are our two solo-ing prisoners, and both sing very well indeed. Particularly Jones, whose luminous baritone was a bit of a revelation to me. The chorus en masse are just as excellent, in fact probably more so. There are really not many sounds in the world to beat that of the men of OA's chorus in unison: here, as in Billy Budd, they are magnificent. And of course, there's Warwick Fyfe right at the end as the magnanimous Don Fernando, very noble and authoritative and for once not really gormless at all. I will say it once again, though: he looks like Napoleon. It isn't just the costume, although that helps.
Yes, you have seen through my cunning plan, I am indeed saving Peter Coleman-Wright for last. That's what you do with the best, isn't it? There are a lot of performances to be excited about in this show, but none quite so electrifying as Peter's Don Pizarro. Over dinner before the show, we were discussing Australian Scarpias, and neither of us having seen Peter in the role, we wondered how well he could pull off pure evil. Well, his Pizarro answered our question in about two seconds flat. He's absolutely terrifying. He delivers his opening speech with the menace and perfect German of a movie Nazi and then moves into an absolutely bloodcurdling "Ha! welch' ein Augenblick" which is truly one of the scariest things I've ever seen on that stage. The rest of his performance is at the same superbly malevolent level, his acting and singing so dark and so compelling that one can't help but be drawn to him, irredeemable as he is. And he tops it all off by very charmingly playing up the villain act in the curtain calls: on opening night, he met the audience's pantomime booing with a suitably melodramatic swirl of his cape, and at the following performance, raised his arms skyward like some mad dictator. He is brilliant. If the rest of the show were a disaster, it would still be worth seeing just for his Pizarro.
Not done yet, but nearly there. Just two more raves. Jonathan Darlington has caused me to fall quite swooningly in love with the AOBO. Beethoven helps too, of course. They sound so sublime in the overture that at the second performance, I thought: if this was it, and there was no singing, that really would be just fine. Once the singing starts, of course, that feeling subsides, but only a little: this is still some of the most beautiful playing I think I've heard from this orchestra.
My final words of praise are for the production team. John Gunter's design is lavish and bold and a wonder to behold, especially the towering, brutal sets. There's an ingenious set change for the final scene: very impressive, although I can't quite bring myself to join with those actually giving it its own round of applause. Serious kudos too to lighting designer Nigel Levings: there's a lot in this libretto about light and darkness, and his imaginative lighting engages nicely with all of that.
However, it is to Cathy Dadd that I really doff my non-existent hat. Michael Hampe's production is seventeen years old and completely traditional: the sort of thing which could quite easily lose its magic in revival and end up unfocused and dull. But this Fidelio is none of those things. It's vibrant and downright riveting theatre, just as vivid as if it were a brand new production. That's helped by the presence of so many individually excellent performances, of course, but Dadd deserves high praise indeed for the way she's drawn all that brilliance together into such a triumphant whole. I said it before and I'll say it again: See This Show.